In Love with the Written Word: Reading in the Digital Age

I was interested to see this commentary by five college students about reading in the digital age, posted on Zócalo Public Square. One of the things that struck me the most was my own anticipation that I would be out of touch with how college students are engaging with the written word today; and I’m a college professor who should be in touch! But actually, I found that the diversity of their approaches mirrors the same diversity I see among my peers.

digital readingSeveral seemed to express a need for speed and fast consumption of many (relatively superficial) sources of information in the attempt to swim rather than sink in the ocean of information that needs sorting through every day. Others seemed to feel burdened by this glut of information and feel nostalgic for the simple and physically-satisfying pleasure of holding and reading a book – a virtual luxury in our fast-paced lives because it’s hard to multitask with a book.  Among all the writers, however, I sensed information fatigue combined with enthusiasm for the written word.

My take-home message is that, whatever the future holds, the digital age has put writing, reading, and text at the center of our lives. I think we are becoming more rather than less in love with reading. The question is, what will we be reading and will it be grammatically correct ;-)?

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12 Comments

  1. yep definitely to be able to read and have a basic comprehension of electronics is a requirement as well as the latest fad.

    What annoys me is how much text I have and continue to generate much less the vast amount of data out there.
    Points for brevity – the ability to say enough in as few words as possible – a new skill.

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  2. read also are things, that aren’t even spetl rite, or hav correkt grammer

    and in reality a sizable portion of what’s available on the net isn’t even written by humans. this article on how an algorithm produces sports review is just one example. most probably the article itself was written by a human: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/04/can-an-algorithm-write-a-better-news-story-than-a-human-reporter/

    and even though poems on the site – http://www.pentametron.com – are simply people’s tweets put together by an algorithm, they make sense to readers because we as humans need to make sense out of everything we encounter, specially that which we see in the mirror.

    in my opinion, we might be heading towards a world that was described in ray bradbury’s fahrenheit 451… mostly because we could run out of paper to print on :P

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  3. I think that if I can understand what someone is trying to communicate to me then it doesn’t really matter if they have made up a word or used an emoticon. That being said, I prefer to have proper grammar, punctuation and spelling, even in my text messages and especially in the books I read. I just wish all the digital products out there would stop Americanising my language.

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    • Interesting! As an American, I’ve not noticed the Americanization of words (or should I say Americanisation? :)). It will stand out to me now that you’ve mentioned it!

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  4. I am with Leonie. I am tired how Digital products Americanise everything I write. But I read both your post and the commentary with the 5 students with great interest. After years of resistance, I have decided that getting a Kindle will be a good idea. A few trees saved, and fewer books to lug around if I do happen to be reading more than one at the same time. Also, hopefully my e-books will not yellow with age.

    I do think grammar has become a victim, but I tell myself that grammar, like language, is a living organism, and what I consider correct grammar today, might have made the hairs rise on an Oxford Deacon’s neck 200 years ago. Or, should that be two hundred years ago? Language and grammar are changing faster than ever, and we need to be watchful.

    I am more concerned with forms of writing. Typing does not engage the brain and the sub conscious in the same way that hand writing does. I fear that we may lose much of what has made us into what we are today if we stop using pen and note paper.

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  5. I am a university student, and I agree that the writing and reading can be considered to be at the center of our lives. However, I think that the majority of what students nowadays read are text messages and facebook statuses, maybe including cheap magazins and sometimes the recommended readinglist of their course. Even newspaper articles seem too long for many students.
    It’s been some time now since I’ve seen a young adult reading for pleasure, and when I’m taking out my book in the bus, everybody else, with their head phones and ipods, looks at me as if I was an alien.
    Of course, authors are still busily writing and and books continually published, but will they be remembered in the future, like the old classics? I don’t think so. Writers need money, and it seems to me that because of that, they are not writing for value, but for profit. And sadly, nowadays that doesn’t seem to be the same anymore.

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    • It’s so hard to know what part of this is due to our techno-excitement – that is, we just love using our new toys – and what part of this will stick in terms of people really forming new habits. Will this generation really stop reading for pleasure? It’s hard for me to imagine this, but time will tell….

      Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
    • ClumsyFool your comment is right on. I am in my 30’s and I love to read. I resisted getting a classic Kindle (gotta love the e-paper!) because I did not want to give up the feeling you get when you turn the page. I also like the conversations that can start up with random people when the are reading the same book, or even a book by that author.
      In the end I got the reader for a few reasons; portability- I have 30 books in a small device and I can read on my phone (its really bad) if the battery goes dead, cost – many of the books I have gotten are very inexpensive or free if I keep looking and find them on sale, last but not least, I actually ran out of space on my book shelves. Between the reference material and personal books I have no space for more. It makes me sad.
      I have mixed feelings though. It is sad that paper books are being used less but I am also eager for the days of intelligent “papers” that can download the book you are reading or writing.
      Thanks for the topic Psyche’s Circuitry!

      Reply
  6. Reblogged this on Not so Magical Adventures and commented:
    This is great thought. Books vs Technology.

    Reply

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